All posts by Catherine Feldman

Happy Thanksgiving from Gardenopolis!

This Thanksgiving, we thought we’d share some of the garden plants we’re most thankful for. 

Ann McCulloh:

Seems like I’ll be planting bulbs until the ground freezes solid, and some of my very favorite bulbs are the Alliums. There are many varieties of this charismatic onion relative, which bloom at various times in spring, summer or fall. All the tiny florets provide wonderful nectar for bees and butterflies. Best of all, the deer don’t like ’em!

The appeal of Eastern Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica) for me is the wonderful fragrance of the leaves and berries. Since this salt tolerant, semi-evergreen shrub makes a beautiful hedge when pruned regularly, there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scent when trimming it. Lots of birds eat the berries, too!

I welcome frost this time of year, once the houseplants are safe inside – it means a break from laboring in the garden! Another benefit is the softening, sweetening effect it has on the fruits of the native persimmon, Diospyros americana. The variety ‘Meader’ is hardy, self-pollinating and can be easily kept at 12′ tall. Beautiful orange fall color, too.

Catherine Feldman:

Pyncnantheum… native mint. Grows in part shade. Fresh pepperminty smell. Extremely attractive to pollinators midsummer through fall. Spreads by runners. Lovely blue grey foliage — color seems to deepen as the season passes.

Elsa Johnson:

A pleasing combination in fall is Amsonia hubrichtii, Sedum spectablis, and carex.

Amsonia hubrichtii… the amsonias are big clump forming perennials, though not at first, so patience is needed for the first couple years, especially in semi shade. All amsonias have pale, pale blue flowers in spring. Hubrichtii has fine thread-like leaves that turn a deep gold in the fall and is an aesthetic wonder, adding both color and billowing soft texture.

Sedum spectablis…a common garden perennial that is also a great pollinator attractor. The blossoms darken to shades of rosy russet in the fall and really stand out against a background of amsonia hubrichtii.

Carex… this is a cultivar I found ….it reminds me of hair. I find that if carex looks too much like ordinary grass my non-gardener clients think they are grass and weed them out. A non grass color like variegation seems to help.

Nyssa sylvatica… one of my favorite trees. Common name Black Gum . This is an easy to grow tree that is adaptable to many environmental conditions once established, and resistant to many diseases and pests. Has shiny dark green leaves that turn to crimson in the early fall. Deer like to browse the young leaves, so protection is needed while the tree is young.

Sassafras… Tends to grow in a thicket. In a good year the leaves turn marvelous mixed shades of yellow and gold flushed with coral.

Tom Gibson:

My favorite pollinator attractor?  Without question it’s boneset, eupatorium perfoliatum, which not only attracts the usual cast of honey bees and bumblebees, but all kinds of wasps, beetles and flies that often rely on pollen for just part of their diet.  I’ve already written about boneset, but the annual early August show continues to pull me in.  I will stand for 15 minutes at a time just to watch the ecstatic, oblivious activity of the dozens of insect visitors.  Here’s an ailanthus web worm with a mason bee:

Another favorite is the hardy ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum).  It’s not mentioned nearly as much as milkweed as a food source for monarchs, but the butterflies always make a stop on these light blue flowers on their way south during the fall.

Finally, there’s Jacob’s ladder.  It’s one of the first plants to bloom in the spring and is a great source of early nourishment for queen bumblebees, whose self-heated “blood” enables them to begin establishing nests in cool weather.

Jacob’s ladder grows prolifically in my shade garden.  It happens to bloom at the same time as my red and black currant bushes, so Jacob’s ladders provide a nice assist in getting fruit started.

A Feast for the Eyes: GardenWalk Cleveland 2017

by Elsa Johnson, Ann McCulloh and Catherine Feldman

This edition of Gardenopolis Cleveland marks our third summer on the beat. One of our first stories was about GardenWalk Cleveland …and here we are again! Last year there was no garden walk, but they were back up last weekend and even added an additional territory, North Collinwood. Your intrepid editors Catherine Feldman, and moi, Elsa Johnson, drove up to what felt to us like another country. …. perhaps somewhere on the Baltic? We got out of our car on a road where the houses all look out over a private park over looking our inland sea…breezes we’re blowing. It was a small place of summer heaven. A treasure! Why don’t more people know this is here? !  Enjoy,…


 Our co-editor, Ann McCulloh also went on Garden Walk Cleveland, to West Park on Cleveland’s west side. But she also manned a table in North Collinwood, and had the chance to take in a few gardens…by luck, she saw the one we missed. 
We’re sorry we didn’t see more of Garden Walk Cleveland…. it’s just so big and sprawly that — even though it is open over two days, the idea of seeing the whole thing is daunting. We wonder what it would be like to break them into groupings and spread them out over the course of the summer…? 

13th Annual Shaker Heights Gracious Garden Tour

13th Annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights Weekend!

Presented by The Shaker Historical Society

The Shaker Historical Society is hosting its 13th Annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights weekend June 16-18, 2017. This highly popular Father’s Day weekend event attracts more than 1,000 people from across the region. 

The Friday evening Cocktails in the Garden Party is held at a private home with superb historic architecture and gardens. This garden has twice been a highlight of the Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights tour and was featured in Fine Garden Gardening magazine for its “Curve Appeal.”

On Sunday, visit eight beautiful gardens that are sure to inspire you to create your own outdoor oasis like the designs you’ll see within the city of Shaker Heights. 

As part of the Gracious Gardens Sunday tour, there will be an admission-free open house with lawn games on the grounds of the museum at 16740 South Park Boulevard, where people wishing to go on the Garden Tour can purchase their tickets, visit the museum and art gallery, and enjoy light refreshments.

The Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights weekend is a major fundraiser that supports the Shaker Historical Society’s commitment to historic preservation, education, and community engagement. This event is also produced in partnership with Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and the Ohio History Connection. 

Ticket and event information:

Cocktails in the Garden Party

Friday, June 16, 2017

6pm – 9pm

Tickets: $75.00 each

Private historic home in Shaker Heights

Sponsorships are available.

Includes cocktails, hors d’oeuvres,

and live music

Gracious Garden Tour and Museum

Open House

Sunday, June 18, 2017

12pm – 5pm. 

Rain or Shine!

Advance tickets for Garden Tour: $20.00 each
Week before tour tickets: $25.00 each

Sunday admission to the Museum will be FREE. Tour the museum and art gallery, purchase your Garden Tour tickets and enjoy light refreshments!

Go to or call 216-921-1201 for ticket information.

Ticket Sale locations: Bremec on the Heights, Gali’s Florist & Garden Center, J. Pistone Market, Juma Gallery, Shaker Hardware, and the Shaker Historical Society




GardenWalk South Euclid

As part of its summer long Centennial Celebration, the City of South Euclid will host GardenWalk South Euclid on Saturday, July 22nd, and Sunday, July 23rd, from 12 noon to 4:00 pm. It will serve as an annual legacy to the Centennial Celebration. The GardenWalk was co-founded by Northern Ohio Perennial Society members, Donna M. Zachary and Sue Gold, and the planning was started in the fall of 2015. Over 35 private gardens, three pocket parks (a Meditation Garden, a Tranquility garden and a Perennial Reflection Garden), a 21 acre nature preserve (hourly tours), 7 mile wetlands and over nine unique community gardens are on the GardenWalk. One community garden contains a bio-retention water basin and two are located in park settings. All can be explored during this “free, self-guided”, two day event. The city’s theme, “Come Together and Thrive,” can be seen in the many shops and restaurants along the garden route. After July 1st, the maps can be downloaded at or www.facebook/ Maps will also be available at the South Euclid Community Center and the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library after July 1st. During the GardenWalk, on July 22nd and 23rd, the maps, rest rooms, water and parking will be available at the Community Center at 1370 Victory Drive, South Euclid 44121 from 12 noon until 4:00 PM.

What Shall We Do Next?

Announcement of Upcoming Events and Purposeful Actions

Home Permaculture Design Short Course

March 2nd to April 20th

Thursdays – 7:30 to 9 PM

First Unitarian Church of Cleveland

Shaker Boulevard, Shaker Heights

Given by:  Green Paradigm Partners: Tom Gibson and Elsa Johnson (216) 932 – 8733

Eight week short course introduces students to permaculture concepts including soil building and soil conservation,on site water retention – rain barrels and cisterns, swales, raingardens, & more, pollinator attracting plants, attracting and keeping beneficial insects, plant polycultures, incorporating native plants in the garden, plants you didn’t know were edible, plant layering and edges as design principles, hands-on practice of landscape design.        

Native Plants for the Home Landscape

February 16 at 6:30 with Garrett Ormiston  

at Cleveland Museum of Natural History-Tickets

Participants will learn about the threats that invasive plants pose to our natural areas and gardens, and the many advantages to using native plants as an alternative. Discussions will include how to make responsible plant choices in your home landscaping, planting native plants in a deer-dominated landscape, using native plants to attract native pollinators, and detailed information about the many different native plants that you can consider for your home gardening projects. Information learned in this presentation will lead up to our March workshop, “Designing Landscapes using Native Plants”.


Patrick Blanc (Paris, France), World’s leading expert on Vertical Gardens

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 10:00am to noon

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Email Carol Provan regarding tickets:

Vertical gardening has become trendy in recent years, a movement led by Patrick Blanc. Special patented techniques enable him to explore new territory and create artistic, soil-less gardens on the exteriors and interiors of museums, hotels, corporations and homes of the ultra-wealthy. He is in demand among an international cadre of architects, developers, and environmental groups, but is just as pleased to be invited to Cleveland by the Shaker Lakes Garden Club.

March for the Climate

Washington DC on April 29

There is no denying it: Donald Trump’s election is a threat to the future of our planet, the safety of our communities, and the health of our families.

This new administration is attacking the hard-won protections of our climate, health, and communities, and the rights of people of color, workers, indigenous people, immigrants, women, LGBTQIA, young people, and more.

If the policies he proposed on the campaign trail are implemented, they will destroy our climate, decimate our jobs and livelihoods, and undermine the civil rights and liberties won in many hard fought battles.

Join Catherine Feldman and Elsa Johnson in forming a Gardenopolis Cleveland contingent!


NOW is the time for us to contribute to saving the environment. We hope the following list will facilitate your donations.

Our next few posts will list some city and state organizations.

National Environmental Organizations  

(thank you EarthEasy for these recommendations)

1. Union of Concerned Scientists

UCS maintains a national network of nearly 17000 scientists who believe “rigorous analysis is the best way to understand the world’s pressing problems and develop effective solutions to them.” UCS’s findings and statements are frequently quoted by major news sources; they have become a recognized and respected voice of environmental advocacy. Their work focuses on clean energy solutions, global warming, and the puzzles of large-scale food production. UCS’s testimony has been instrumental in several pieces of important green legislation.

2. Natural Resources Defense Council

Called “One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups” by the New York Times, NRDC combines “the grassroots power of 1.4 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals”. This time of year, NRDC offers holiday-ready “green gifts”: your donation results in a gift card describing the action it supports, such as “adopt a wolf in Yellowstone” or “save an acre of whale nursery” to add a tangible meaning to a personalized gift.

3. Environmental Working Group

Known for their annual “Dirty Dozen” list revealing the highest (and lowest) pesticide concentrations in conventionally-grown produce, EWG is known for researching and spreading awareness regarding toxic chemicals, sustainable versus exploitative agricultural practices, consumer product safety, and corporate accountability. Right now, EWG promises that monetary gifts will be doubled through a matching campaign. This is a good pick for those with a passion for clean food.

4. Greenpeace Fund

GreenpeaceMade famous in the 1970’s and 80’s for its seafaring bands of activists peacefully accosting whaling ships and exposing covert nuclear testing, today’s Greenpeace describes climate change as “the number one threat facing our planet”. Greenpeace has not lost its passionate idealism, maintains its corporate integrity, and still inspires many to urgent, hopeful direct action. Courageous efforts by small groups of concerned individuals have influenced governments in the past, as with Greenpeace’s inaugural efforts to stop nuclear testing at Amchitka Alaska.

5. Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth describes itself as a “bold and fearless voice for justice and the planet”. Recent campaigns have targeted bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides, “dirty” tar sands oil extraction, and the environmental devastation of palm oil production. Those who oppose widespread adoption of nanotechnology, genetically engineered foods, and human gene patenting will appreciate FOE’s clear stance and advocacy.

6. Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Alliance has gained public recognition with their independent certification of common rainforest products, such as chocolate, coffee, bananas, and tea. Producers must meet strict sustainability standards to gain certification. The Alliance also works with foresters and the tourism industry in ecologically vulnerable areas. Their website offers consumer and traveler information, helping us work together to steward some of the most biodiverse, threatened, and globally critical habitats.

7. Earthjustice

Earthjustice is clear about its reason for being: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer”. Beginning as a Sierra Club team mounting a lawsuit to preserve an isolated California valley from development as a Disney ski resort, Earthjustice has become an independent crusade focusing on high-impact, precedent-setting battles. These are dedicated, experienced lawyers taking on the David-and-Goliath fights many of us feel powerless to influence. Donating here is one approach to evening the scales between the “big bucks” of large corporate interests and the often woefully underfunded voice of our struggling ecosystem.

8. Ocean Conservancy

Ocean“Ocean Conservancy works to keep the ocean healthy, to keep us healthy.” Current areas of focus include addressing ocean acidification, restoration and oil-spill recovery in the Gulf of Mexico, and protecting the Arctic ecosystem from damage by increased shipping and oil and gas exploration. In the words of Jacques Cousteau, “The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”

9. Earth Island Institute

One Earth Island proponent describes the group as “a community of creative activists with a great track record and cutting edge worldview.” E.I.I. nourishes ambitious fledgling projects, giving them fuel to thrive and potentially become independent nonprofits, such as Rainforest Action Network and Salmon Protection and Watershed Network. The California-based organization has several locally-focused initiatives under its wing, as well as international projects like the Center for Safe Energy and the Plastic Pollution Coalition, among many others. Supporters can pick and choose which project they’d like to fund. It’s a big strong umbrella under which you can still aim your support at a highly specific goal.

10. The Sierra Club Foundation

Another household name, the Sierra Club has a popular reputation as less radical than Greenpeace, less likely to cause arguments at the family dinner table. Political lobbying and legislative advocacy have always been central to Sierra Club’s mission. Today the Club focuses on moving beyond fossil fuel dependency and preserving wild spaces from harmful development, as well as offering their signature wilderness trek experiences to individuals across the country.

Some of our other favorites:

Environmental Defense Fund

“Environmental Defense Fund’s mission is to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends.

Guided by science and economics, we find practical and lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems.”

Nature Conservancy

“The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.

Our vision is a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake and its ability to fulfill our needs and enrich our lives.”


“The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is an international nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. We take our name from the now extinct Xerces Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche xerces), the first butterfly known to go extinct in North America as a result of human activities.”

Yale 360

“Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting, and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news.”

 Mother Jones 

“Mother Jones is a reader-supported nonprofit news organization. We do independent and investigative reporting on everything from politics and climate change to education and food (plus cat blogging). Some 9 million people come to this site each month. We also publish an award-winning, 200,000-circulation magazine, we just launched a new podcast, and you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.”

Earth First 

No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth

“The very future of life on Earth is in danger. Human activities—from hunting to habitat destruction—have already driven countless species to extinction, and the process is only accelerating. The destruction of the Earth and its sustainable indigenous cultures has led to tragedy in every corner of the globe.”

National Wildlife Federation

“National Wildlife Federation is a voice for wildlife, dedicated to protecting wildlife and habitat and inspiring the future generation of conservationists.”


Pollinator Pocket Progress

by Elsa Johnson and Catherine Feldman

Last fall Gardenopolis Cleveland decided to offer to help people develop pollinator pockets, starting with soil building via lasagna mulching in the fall, then returning the following spring to plant pollinator attracting flowers. But, of course, before we began, we had to have a sign…so we designed one.Gardenopolis_PollinatorPocket_final_o

When you see this sign around town, look for a nascent pollinator pocket.

Next, we sent our idea out into the ether and in a short time-voila!-we had a handful of takers.

The original idea had been to place our pollinator pockets on tree lawns or front yards for visibility (else why need a sign?) and make them all the same–a formula–but we quickly ran into a hitch–nature doesn’t do formulas. Each site we looked at was different than the one before.

Since our sites were all different–one long, skinny and very shady, several sunny, one on the edge of the woods–we realized that we needed a variety of plants to meet a variety of conditions. Our goal was that each pocket had plants attractive to pollinators across one complete growing season, i.e., spring to fall. Now we needed to consider plants that could handle a broad spectrum of environmental conditions. Surely a job for (drum roll) native plants!

Our selection included milkweed, aster, coneflower, pink turtlehead, agastache, lobelia, geranium, eupatorium, native solomon’s seal, golden road and salvia. This mix tended toward mid-summer to fall bloomers–we found it interesting how so many of our native wildflowers are late season. We used only plants that were designated as unappetizing to deer.


We usually buy plants in one or two gallon containers but because we needed a variety of plants and needed to keep our costs down we purchased very small plugs from a native plant mail-order nursery.

Checking on our pollinator pockets this fall we found varying results. One that had not been watered was basically gone. But, the rest were growing and doing well–though it will be next year before they mature and fill their purpose.


If the idea of a pollinator pocket in your garden seems appealing, just let us know. Our goal is a pocket in every garden!



*A lasagna mulch consists of layers of soil building materials-newspaper, manure, compost, green and dried leaves, straw and wood chips or cover crop-that break down over time to increase the organic composition of the soil.

*A pollinator pocket is an area of at least 5’x5′ planted with a range of plants that help sustain bees, bugs, butterflies and birds throughout the year. Ideally, such pockets would exist in every yard so that the pollinators could travel from one to the next fulfilling their needs.

Pollinator Pocket Progress

Catherine Feldman and Elsa Johnson

Gardenopolis Vision: Pollinator Pockets blooming in every yard throughout the Cleveland area. Butterflies, bees, wasps, birds and bats feasting  and flying from pocket to pocket. Pollinator populations proliferate. We are doing our part.

Our Plan: To provide a service by planting Pollinator Pockets in the Cleveland area .

Our Action: We have planted seven experimental Pollinator Pockets in Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights. As you may recall from our previous article on this venture last fall we prepared the gardens for planting using the lasagna mulch method, layers of newspaper, compost, manure, straw and wood chips. This spring we designed and planted individualized selections of native pollinator attracting plants.

bees on coneflower

In general, our criteria were as follows:

  • Grows well in Cleveland
  • Close to species—more likely to attract native pollinators and to bloom at the time that native pollinators require
  • Sequence of bloom for a long period of time from summer into fall
  • Native because more likely to survive
  • Drought resistant—native plants tend to be
  • Deer resistant: although deer may taste something they haven’t seen before they are not likely to eat the plants as chosen
  • Long bloom—individually (weeks vs. just days)
  • Beauty-good color combinationscone flower, thyme, agastache

In particular, each pocket we planted was different (size, sun or shade, location in relation to the house) so each bed was individually designed by Gardenopolis Cleveland editor, Elsa Johnson.

There are many lists out there of recommended pollinator plants. This list consists of the ones that met our criteria and that we were able to obtain in plug size (more economical):

  • Agastache: long bloom period-mid-summer into fall; bees LOVE it
  • Anenome: late season bloom-spreads nicely (but can be invasive)
  • Asclepias: two seasons of importance—in bloom for bees and butterflies and as food source for monarchs; will self-sow for monarchs
  • Echinacea: blooms over a long period of time-midsummer into fall; birds like seeds
  • Chelone: late bloomer
  • Aster: late season bloomer
  • Eupatorium: late season bloomer; easy to grow
  • Lobelia: late season bloom—attracts humming birds as well as insects
  • Geranium: Rozanne or Azure Rush—these varieties bloom all summer and into fall
  • Meehania: groundcover in the mint family; early bloomer
  • Rudbeckia: ‘Henry Eilers’ has a long bloom time from mid-summer into fall. We also like ‘Viettes Little Suzy’ (shorter)
  • Salvias: blooms early and into summer; reblooms and easy to grow if you cut back after blooming
  • Scutellaria: a native mint good for semi-shade; spreads
  • Solidago: long season of bloom from late summer into fall. An important late season pollinator

geranium Rozanne

Geranium Rozanne

aesclepias tuberosa

Aesclepias tuberosa

Next Steps: If you are inspired by this idea and want to plant your own Pocket, go for it! Here are some links for more information:

You may even wish to take a course:

Or, read a book:

Attracting Native Pollinators by Eric Mader, Mace Vaughn, and Matthew Shepherd of the Xerces Society is a classic.

Or, on the other hand, you may prefer to have us plant one for you. If so, please contact Catherine Feldman at

We end by loosely quoting Denise Ellsworth, “Fall victim to plant lust, but, before you fall, take a step back and watch how many pollinators it attracts.”


When you see our sign, look for one of our Pollinator Pockets nearby. We will be keeping you posted as to their progress.

Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights 2016

by Catherine Feldman
20160601_143923GARDENOPOLIS Cleveland is happy to advertise and recommend the12th Annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights tour to take place on Fathers’ Day, June 19th from noon until five pm. As always, fantastic gardens will be open to the public: this year, six private gardens from all across Shaker and one community garden at Shaker Heights High School will be on display. Visitors may purchase tickets now for $20 at the Shaker Historical Society, Gali’s Florist and Garden Center, J. Pistone Market, Van Aken Hardware, Shaker Hardware, Juma Gallery and Bremec on the Heights. Tickets may also be purchased for $25 at Shaker Heights Historical Society and at each of the gardens on the day of the tour.

For avid, curious and sociable gardeners there is also a kickoff party on Friday, June 17th from 6 -10 pm. The party is special this year because it takes place in a 150+year old farmhouse that belonged to Rockefeller’s pastor and golf buddy, the Reverend William Bustard. The house has been lovingly maintained and furnished by hosts, Jude and Dick Parke. A raise the paddle auction will be held in honor of former Fire Chief, George Vild. In recognition of the Shaker Heights Fire Department centennial funds will be raised for renovation of Shaker’s first fire truck, the 1917 La France pumper. Tickets may be purchased for $150 until June 10th at the Shaker Historical Society. Party chairs are Jennifer Sullivan and Stacy Hunter; honorary chairs are Fire Chief and Mrs. Patrick Sweeney. For information, call 216-921-1201.

If you would like to volunteer for 2 ½ hours on the day of the tour, not only will you be able to chat with other gardeners, but also will receive a free ticket to tour the gardens. If you are interested mail Stacy at

The tour benefits the Shaker Historical Society, located in the Myers mansion at 16740 South Park Boulevard. Ware Petznick, executive director of SHS,  is actively working to position it as a steward of Shaker’s past, and also it’s present and future. Ware explained to me, “The Van Sweringen brothers designed Shaker Heights on the garden city model in which the landscape was as important as the architecture. Their vision included beautiful winding streets with set back houses and deep gardens.” She added, “We are proud to present this garden tour with the help of our sponsors, particularly Liberatore Landscape Construction, Eastside Landscaping, Homestead Roofing and Aristotle Design Group.”

* In the interest of full transparency we readily reveal that co-chairs of the tour are Margaret Ransohoff, GC contributor and Catherine Feldman, GC editor 😉





Shaker Heights High School’s Audrey Stout Learning Garden

by Catherine Feldman

The Audrey Stout Learning Garden at Shaker Heights High School is a hidden delight that we were fortunate to discover.  Until 2012 the central courtyard of the school was entirely lawn, unused and ignored. Over the past four years students and staff have worked hard to create unique gardens there.

Students started with a few raised beds, but soon had wishes to cultivate a larger garden. Landscape architect, Jim McKnight, was called upon. After meeting with students to determine their needs and vision, he designed a formal hardscape within which the students’ burgeoning creativity could grow. The beautiful formal hardscape allows for different foci in different areas of the Garden.

IMG_3455Individual beds are devoted to plantings of African, Asian, European, and American origin, as well as customary modern vegetable farming: in total the Garden reflects the diverse population of the school.

Other features include espaliered apple trees along one face of the courtyard,


mushroom logs,


potato-buckets planted by the various elementary schools,

IMG_3447 a raspberry hedge, a nascent hosta collection and more.

All gardens are a work in progress, but this one is especially so. Since it is a student project, it will always reflect the changing interests of the current population and programming. So far, the high school’s International Baccalaureate program, the Special Education program, Science, Art, Politics and Literature classes (see the Ophelia garden), capstone projects and personal projects have all left their mark upon the space. Students also have participated in the local county fair and won ribbons for garlic, potatoes, cosmos, marigold and sunflowers. In total, about 500 students have their “hands in the dirt.”

The garden has also provided improved nutrition to students. Last year the garden produced 140 pounds of fruits and vegetables that was served by the school cafeteria to students and staff!

We can thank the family of Audrey Stout , a Shaker teacher, gardener and mother, who are the benefactors behind this very special garden.


Great credit goes to Paula Damm, School Nurse, and Stacy Steggert, Special Education teacher,  who have shepherded the project from its beginning.  Over the past four years they have inspired teachers and students to ever greater enthusiasm and participation in the garden and they hope that this integration of the garden into the school’s curriculum will continue to increase.

You, too, may see this garden on June 19th between noon and five in the afternoon as it will be open to the public during the the 2016 Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights tour.


Gumdrops and Bowling Balls

by Elsa Johnson

As I drive about, during this busy time of the year, observing the annual riotous explosion of nature and the never-ending human need to keep nature in check (all those tightly trimmed gumdrops and bowling ball shrubs — all those landscapes of polka-dot plants adrift in a sea of mulch)

gumdrop shrubs

I wonder: how did our sense of what a landscape or garden should look like come about?

How much do the examples of traditional great landscapes and gardens influence us?    such as the naturalistic English landscape; the elaborate, contrived, formal estate gardens of the Renaissance and early enlightenment Europe; the elaborate, formal pleasure gardens of the Middle East and Asia; the naturalist seeming Japanese Gardens, that are actually deeply artificial –  these all remnants of the gardens of the economic and political elite through time .  The gardens of more ordinary people endure less well, alas  – but, still, we do have a picture in our heads when we say cottage garden, herb garden, kitchen garden, commons (that small parcel of shared land around which a village grew).

What do these diverse examples of landscape and garden have in common? I believe that what informs them is a human need to order toward simplification what we see as disordered nature. 

There are exceptions: we know (today) that the indigenous peoples of the Amazon River basin traditionally lived in what we now acknowledge as a food forest, which was and is – where it still exists – a place where these peoples live in accord with the seasonal productivity of the forest. The food forest is an example of a complex system (rather than a simple one), shaped (somewhat) by the people who lived/live within it. To western sensibilities the food forest as garden was and remains largely invisible because the organizational principles underlying it are not simple and thus not readily visible. 

More often we see that he human need to impose order – to hold a thing quiet in time — is directly opposed to nature’s inherent mutability. We create outdoor spaces and then work hard and spend a lot of money (and endure a lot of noise) to keep them from changing one iota over time, in a climate (northeast Ohio) where garden or lawn, left untended for even one year, quickly begins the process of returning to forest. Nature is about fecundity.

nature straight

Nature unchecked.

Gardening is about controlling fecundity, holding it in check.  We want the garden to behave like architecture – a thing that once built and decorated, does not change. Hence the gumdrops, bowling balls, and polka-dot plants adrift in a sea of mulch. But, there are other options, ranging from naturalized to a careful balance of order and nature.

See naturalized gardens below:



See a balance of natural and man-made below:

combined natural and unnatural



Underlying the need to hold time quiet is the fact that simple landscapes are easier to maintain for the non-gardener, and I include as non-gardeners most of the landscape crews to whom we outsource the maintenance of our gardens, who, largely untrained, can only repeat what they see and are given or told to do. We do not hire gardeners: that word implies knowledge about the plant world. Instead we hire maintenance crews – most of whom have no specialized knowledge beyond how to mow, trim and edge in a flurry of action and noise (none of it carbon neutral), and as quickly depart.   

Some friends of mine recently sold their large house in its richly complex landscape which had been developed over a decade of time. When the realtors came to take a look at the property before putting it on the market, they said no one would want that landscape, and urged that the landscape be simplified (meaning, rip a bunch of stuff out and replace with mulch), the implication being that no one wants a visually and ecologically complex landscape.  No one, of course except the birds and the bees and the butterflies and all the other beneficial insects. 

There is naturalistic, and then there is something that is just too much like real nature. What do you think? We’d like to hear from you.